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St. Louis-based pharmacy uses technology to cut costs of prescription medication

Rx Outreach claims to cost a fraction of the price of medication by utilizing donations and generics.

MARYLAND HEIGHTS, Mo. — It's no secret that the price of prescription drugs costs people more than just money, as millions struggle to pay for life-saving medications. 

Take the diabetes drug Ozempic. it costs more than $300 with insurance. Without it? Up to a thousand dollars, even at cost-saving pharmacies like Amazon and Costco. 

The issue itself is a national crisis.

During President Joe Biden's recent State of the Union address, he spent several minutes vowing to bring down the cost of medications and going after big pharma.

His administration capped the cost of insulin to $35 dollar a month for seniors on Medicare, but there are millions of other Americans and thousands of other ailments.

Enter Rx Outreach based in Maryland Heights. The building houses an automated pharmacy with rows of generic drugs. Robotic arms and cameras fill most of the bottles that get delivered directly to a patient's doorstep. Automation contributes to lower costs. 

The non-profit pharmacy carries some drugs that cost thousands of dollars at a retail pharmacy for a fraction of the price, like Panretin, a cream that helps treat certain types of AIDS-related sarcoma sores. At a retail pharmacy, you'd pay $5,000 without insurance. At Rx Outreach, the cost would be $100.

"One of the problems is that we're a secret," said Julie Erickson, the CEO of Rx Outreach. "We're a best-kept secret."

It's not entirely a secret. Rx Outreach was voted the best online pharmacy by Forbes Health in 2022 as well as the best online pharmacy in Money Magazine for 2020 and 2021. It's accredited and licensed in all 50 states, Erickson said, and launched a few years ago as a non-profit when it branched off from Express Scripts.

"People are always very nervous about whether or not we're legitimate," said Erickson. "We have a lot of credentials backing us up."

The digital pharmacy is able to buy generics with donations, and it also works with drug makers as well. It claims to have helped more than a half million people save more than $1 billion dollars since its inception. In recent weeks, the pharmacy says it's signed up close to a thousand new patients as inflation continues to hit families hard. 

Erickson said she's been in touch with food banks. One told her that more than 42% of those who used pantries struggled with the decision of whether to buy food or pay for prescriptions. A Department of Health and Human Services report found that over the last year, prescription drug prices rose at an average rate of 31.6% with some increasing by 500%. 

"Just think about it, a mom not taking her diabetes medicine because she wants to feed her kids," said Erickson. "That should not exist."

Helen Mohan utilized the program when her husband, who owned a small business, got sick in 2005. She found out through word of mouth.

"I literally utilized them to keep my house afloat," said Mohan. 

Their family used the service until 2011 when her husband passed away. It's the year she turned from Rx Outreach patient to a company employee. It's not a job she needs at 75 years old.

"I could retire," said Mohan. "I really like this place. I never leave this place and not feel like I didn't do something really good for someone. Ever."

Mohan works as a pharmacy tech and talks with patients every day. Sometimes she refills prescriptions over the phone, other times she searches for generics at better-than-retail prices, and occasionally she is allowed to grant a gift of a free prescription.

"I've literally had people cry because they can actually get the medication," said Mohan. These are mostly medications that help treat chronic illnesses. The day we met Mohan she was helping a patient find a drug used for people who received a live transplant.

Rx Outreach serves people who are not insured or underinsured. It's as simple as asking your doctor to send the prescription to them or calling to see if you qualify. Often you can search on Rx Outreach's website to compare prices to that of GoodRx or other online pharmacies, like Amazon or Costco.

It's just one solution as more companies try to find ways to help people get life-saving medications. Dallas Mavericks owner and entrepreneur Mark Cuban also launched Cost Plus Drugs to combat the skyrocketing price of prescriptions. 

Rx Outreach believes it has found a successful way to help people and change lives, but if there's anything to learn, they say it's simply to take control of your medications. 

Erickson simply says to shop around. 

"It's worth looking into," she said.

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